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Does Technology Remove the “Welcome”

Astrid and I spent an hour and a half with Michelle Horton the Director of Parking and Transportation Services at the University of Nevada, Reno last week. This woman knows her stuff. Her job, as she sees it, is to do her best to make the university welcoming.

I asked her what PARCS system she uses, and she smiled and said “none.” I have to admit that I was take aback. After all, she was controlling 10,000 spaces on a campus of more than 20,000 students. Wouldn’t one want to use every possible tool available to help with that task.

She told us that she felt that barriers, ticket spitters, and the like remove the ‘welcome’ feeling at the university. She has a program where students actually design the tags and stickers for the permits. Her department runs a contest to select the new designs each year. Parking is enforced by officers who write tickets and interact with the students. She prefers to call them ambassadors.

She does use T2, PaybyPhone, and other behind the scenes software, but as far as dealing with students and staff, she prefers a personal approach. The discussion got me to thinking about how we look at technology in the parking industry.

It seems that gates, dispensers, LPR, AVI, most all apps, and on line payment methods make it their business to remove people from process. Their goal is to reduce costs and improve revenue. In most cases the costs they remove is people. And those people are what makes our parking operations more welcoming.

In our municipal parking operations, do we make our customers feel welcome, or do the interactions we have with them become, by definition, accusatory. When we tell our enforcement staff to avoid all personal contact, and if required, mail citations to our customers, what does that say about our parking departments.

Moving down the street in locked cars, taking LPR pictures and then mailing citations to vehicle owners, often not the people who actually parked the car, makes us better enforcers but does it make us a better, more welcoming organization.

At PIE this May in Reno we have an interactive session on how we can tell our customers why it is necessary to charge for parking and how those charges make for a better community. The problem is that we will need people on the ground to help explain why we do what we do. Apps, tech, and gates remove the personal touch and the ‘welcome.’

Michelle Horton sees that parking’s job one is to welcome people to her university. “After all, we are the first to greet them and the last to say goodbye. Why not use every power we have to spread a positive message.”  Why not indeed.

JVH

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